Tu B’Shevat is over although some of us are still enjoying dried fruit. The experiences enjoyed during Tu B’Shevat were not as fun (or tasty) on Zoom, and the hope is that next year we can join together for a real feast to celebrate our world and environment. However, there are at least three things you can (and should) continue doing and not wait for next Tu B’Shevat. It is always possible to buy a tree in Israel through JNF.org. Did you know that over 50 years, JNF has planted over 260 million trees — mainly in semi-arid, rocky, hilly terrain to avoid land degradation? Hopefully, you will plant and then go to Israel to “visit” your trees. Of course, the year-round celebration of the earth is through caring for the earth. In the Book of Genesis, we are called to be shomrei adamah, caretakers of the earth, and of all G-d’s creations. This can be done in so many ways and it is up to each of us to do something. The third thing we must do for the earth and ourselves is to get outside — enjoy the beauty of the world. There is much to learn from the experience of just being in a natural setting (even if it is just in your neighborhood — find a tree!). Here is a quote from Job 14:7 that reminds us not just about hope for trees but our hopes that we truly are like trees: “There is hope for a tree; if it is cut down it will renew itself; its shoots will not cease. If its roots are old in the earth, and its stump dies in the ground, at the scent of water it will bud and produce branches like a sapling.” Tu B’Shevat is the New Year of the Trees, and it should be a new year to remind us what power we have in saving the earth.
This opportunity to keep the spirit of Tu B’Shevat alive year-round is important, and we have more time to think and do until the next Jewish holiday comes. With two Adars this year, Purim won’t be here until March 17. Jewish life is a cycle of holidays creating moments in time to stop and celebrate. Tu B’Shevat is delicious and Purim is definitely fun but in between we have eight Shabbatot. Hopefully you haven’t forgotten your New Year’s Resolutions which started on Jan. 1 (although statistics are not encouraging for people following through on those). Every day is an opportunity to start a new habit — what “Jewish habit” can you start today? We have so many entryways into Judaism and, even for those who live an observant life, there is always something different to add to your practice. Rather than give suggestions, I will share one of my goals which will not come as a surprise — I am committing to buying only books that I will read from start to finish! Here is the new one on my list that I will recommend: “The Jewish Family Ethics Textbook” by Rabbi Neal Scheindlin from the JPS Essential Judaism Series. The best part is that it doesn’t need to be read from start to finish in order, but rather take an interest area and read! We are challenged today with ethical behavior but we are not really so different from ancient times. Learning from the past and applying it to today is important.
So take the next two months to get ready for Purim — there is time to read the Book of Esther and do some in-depth study! Plus feel free to share your new Jewish actions or even just ask me for book recommendations — reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laura Seymour is Jewish Experiential Learning director and Camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.